One in eight people go to bed hungry according to the latest figures.  That’s more than 840 million people every day, despite the fact that enough food is produced to go around. 

Many people like to take the easy way out and say that must mean that there are too many people and we should aim to have fewer.  In fact, Oxfam identifies in a recent comprehensive study that overconsumption, misuse of resources and waste are what leaves many on our planet without enough good food to eat.  A lack of investment in agriculture and infrastructure in impoverished countries also plays a part, as does politics and corruption.

Oxfam studied 125 countries with the objective of discovering the best and worst places to eat.  It is the first study of its kind and identifies the many different challenges various countries face.  Interestingly, but not surprisingly, while some suffer malnutrition, others face obesity epidemics.  In its media statement Oxfam states that the index:

“illustrates a broken global food system, in which consumers suffer from both under nutrition and obesity – often in the same countries or communities. It is clear that governments and the food industry need to address this.”

The study answered four key questions:

1. Do people have enough to eat? – Measured by levels of undernourishment and underweight children

2. Can people afford to eat? – Measured by food price levels compared to other goods and services and food price volatility

3. Is food of good quality? – Measured by diversity of diet and access to clean and safe water, and

4. What is the extent of unhealthy outcomes of people’s diet? – Measured by diabetes and obesity

These four questions are considered together to create a country’s ranking on the index, which is why factors such as food price levels, food price volatility and obesity pull some wealthy countries down the list.

The Netherlands came up tops – so it seems that foodies should head there for their next holiday (snert or stamppot anyone?).  The score was due to its relatively low food prices and diabetes levels, and better nutritional diversity than its European rivals.  However, it still scored poorly on the obesity measure with almost one in five of its population (19 percent) obese.  It was followed closely by France, Switzerland and various other European countries.  

Chad, in Middle Africa, was found to be the worst place to eat because food there holds little nutritional value but is nevertheless expensive, and prepared with limited access to good sanitary conditions.  The only place where food is more expensive than in Chad is in Guinea.  Ethiopia and Angola were not far behind it. 

The worst on the index in terms of obesity alone was Kuwait where 42 percent of the population is obese. Saudi Arabia, the United States and Egypt shared second position, where one in three people were obese.  Obesity is interesting because, on the one hand, it is becoming more pronounced due to better incomes which afford more food than is necessary, changing diets, and a lack of exercise, but on the other it also affects those in poverty.  Examples of this can be seen in the United Kingdom and United States where people on low incomes eat more processed foods, which are higher in saturated fats and salt and often cheaper than fruit and vegetables.

Overall, the level of waste and over-consumption in some countries, while other countries go hungry, indicates sadly disparate food distribution.  Perhaps gluttony is among ‘the seven deadly sins’ for a reason?  While we, and our governments, can’t always do anything about complicated political problems, we can think about food as a global resource to be shared and cultivated by all humans.  It is certainly a challenge.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...